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Vickroy: Animal lovers mourn loss of ‘angel’

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The Guardian

Julia Ferrel frequently handed out copies of her favorite quotation:

“Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.

And seeing them ... he cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

God said, “I did do
something, I made you.”

Sufi saying

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:07PM



All dogs go to heaven, and surely Julia Ferrel is there to greet them.

Ferrel, who succumbed to cancer on July 24, was famous across Chicago and suburbs as well as northwest Indiana for her tireless animal rescue work. Her sister, Sue Malone, estimates that in the past eight years, Ferrel saved more than 200 animals, most of them dogs.

“It didn’t matter what area or what time of day, when someone called, Julia ran,” Malone said.

Malone remembers Ferrel waiting patiently in junkyards and truck yards for reluctant abandoned dogs to heed her call. She recalls how her younger sister would crawl along railroad tracks in search of a lost dog and how she’d hear about a missing pet and get to work making and posting fliers across town.

Ferrel, 55, worked as sales manager and community liaison for the Journal News, a publication serving the Chicago communities of Brighton Park, Archer Heights, McKinley Park and Bridgeport. But she was well-known throughout Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Chicago’s Beverly community and Bridgeview, to name a few areas, as the woman who cared enough to see the job through.

Ferrel left behind a husband, Antonio; three children, Antonio, Alisha and Jonathan; five grandchildren and countless animal success stories.

Foremost among them is the tale of Alexander, the rescued pit bull that now lives in the Journal News office.

Ferrel wrote a column for the Journal News and City NewsHound, a weekly newspaper that circulates in the Garfield Ridge and Clearing communities. In “Paw Prints,” she would provide tips and information on how readers could best care for their animals. Ferrel also fought for better animal welfare, taking on puppy mills and abusive or neglectful veterinarians. And she was known to provide free advertising to people who lost, found or were willing to help animals.

“Yeah, she ran so many free ads and public service announcements that there were times I was afraid she was giving away the store,” said Malone, editor and publisher of the Journal News and City NewsHound.

When news of Ferrel’s death reached Ken Keim, who lives on the Southwest Side, he said, “The animals have lost a saint. We have lost a beautiful person who was always there to help. I’m sure she had a hell of a reception at the Rainbow Bridge.”

Keim recalled how Ferrel helped him find a home for a cat his daughter, Julie Senka, a Manhattan teacher, found during a storm in Joliet. Ferrel also helped when a pit bull followed Keim home one day. It wore an expired Oak Lawn tag and Ferrel worked with the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn police to trace the dog’s owners to Chicago.

“She was an angel,” said Cheryl Muth, office manager at Pulaski Animal Hospital, where Ferrel brought many of her rescues for treatment. “If I could be one-tenth of her, I’d be a much better person.”

Ferrel grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Her father’s family owned horses in southern Illinois and he brought both Ferrel and Malone down there regularly. They often watched for hours on end while he tamed or broke wild horses.

“He was a horse whisperer before anyone knew about horse whisperers,” Malone said.

“Julia always said her love for animals came from our dad,” Malone said. “I think that’s where her patience and optimism came from, too.”

For most of her adult life, Ferrel was ever rescuing animals in need, getting them proper care and then trying to find them a new home.

When the economy took a turn for the worse in 2007 and people began relinquishing or abandoning pets in seemingly record numbers, Ferrel’s mission became increasingly difficult. At times, it would consume her.

Muth said, “She didn’t realize it was such an overwhelming problem. There were way more animals that needed to be rescued than she could ever help. She had to learn how to be grateful for the ones she could save.”

Still, she wouldn’t let the insurmountable odds stop her, Muth said.

On her deathbed, Ferrel made Malone promise that she would continue her work. Malone plans to restart “Paw Prints,” perhaps featuring guest authors, and she is asking people who want to honor her sister’s life to do so by adopting or fostering an animal or by helping a local animal shelter.

Malone knows it won’t be easy to keep her promise. While many people are willing to call about an animal they suspect is alone or being abused, few are actually willing to take them in and give them homes.

“That’s what made Julia so special,” Malone said. “She saw things through. She had a big heart.”

Muth agreed, saying, “Julia loved animals. She loved people. She loved life. She just loved.”



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